words: David Marples
It is notoriously foolhardy to conclude too much from pre-season friendlies. Nonetheless, in gleeful anticipation of football very nearly being 'back' and with a huge degree of caution, here are some thoughts:
*The formation was 4-2-3-1 but the full backs - Tendayi Darikwa and Ben Osborn - pushed forward at every opportunity to provide width in the attack. Diogo Goncalves, Joao Carvalho and Gil Dias provided the 'three' and tucked in when in possession going forward, providing space for Osborn and Darikwa. However, Forest enjoyed the lion's share of possession and one suspects that against better teams, the full backs will not be allowed so much freedom.
*Goncalves, Carvalho (central) and Dias looked very comfortable on the ball. They all love a little turn, a little shimmy and quick first touch balls around the edge of the box. Osborn seemed to be the player most attuned to their style - he often joined in the quick passing and seemed instinctively to find their runs with a smart pass. Off the ball, Goncalves particularly worked hard when not in possession to help his full back.
*Many thought that Osborn as a left back was a temporary solution to an age-old problem; like bringing the plastic outdoor furniture in to the living room while waiting for a new sofa to be delivered. Yet once again Osborn proved adept in the position. His touch, positioning and general nous as a footballer, means he looks utterly comfortable out there. Occasionally, some folks bellowed at Osborn to get back in position but you can't have it both ways. Cleary under instruction to support the attack from wide, it is the job of the holding midfielders to fill in while the full back gallivants forward. Besides, Osborn's ability to sneak beyond the last man or whip in a cross is well worth the temporary gap left at the back. Osborn at left back is no longer the cheap plastic outdoor furniture but that more expensive rattan stuff with an additional parasol and table.
*Ryan Yates and Adlene Guedioura were the holding 'two'. Yates received many plaudits last season while on loan and given his performance here, it is easy to see why. It's weird - he doesn't look like an athlete and possess a rather ungainly run; he clunks like a tin-man across the turf, reminiscent in the style of Roy Keane. However, he covers the pitch, gets about and looks comfortable on the ball. Guedioura remains excellent at winning the ball and turning possession over but still thinks he is going to score from 35 yards every time he is in possession from such a distance. Furthermore - and reassuringly - his shorts still look slightly too long on him.
*Jack Colback replaced Guedioura and confirmed that he is an excellent acquisition. The first thing he did was take a booking for barging someone to the ground as they bore down on the defence. The second thing he did was go full on into a 50/50 ball and whacked it as hard as he could, making one of those loud 'crack' sounds as two players kick the ball at the same time. There is now fierce competition for a midfield spot with Ben Watson and Liam Bridcutt waiting in the wings too.
*Daryl Murphy led the line, except he didn't. If truth be told, he looked devoid of confidence. Although mobility was never his strength, he would always try to move the defenders around but even this was lacking. In addition, he also struggled to hold the ball up. A few turned on him in the crowd and it is easy to see why: occasionally, Murphy's body language can even make Chris Waddle look like an eager beaver but on the other hand, it simply looked like a player low on confidence - a textbook case of a striker needing a goal to bounce in off his arse.
*All of which means that it remains unclear what a starting XI might look like come August 4th. Perhaps Aitor Karanka isn't sure yet either, hence the high number of friendlies organised. That doesn't necessarily make it a case for concern. Given the number of players coming in, it takes time to sift through and find the nuggets of gold amongst the grains of sand. It might take five or even ten games before we see a settled team selection but more significantly, such a situation is testament to the strength of depth in this squad.
*Thomas Lam came on and his hair has grown; he looks better, more handsome.
*The cut of the new shirt looks 'figure hugging'. If you are getting one, maybe consider going a size up.